August 15, 2014
by Art Agnos
Why is the former mayor and former resident suing San Francisco? That's the question every San Franciscan should be asking Friday when Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, along with the other two members of the State Lands Commission, meet at the San Francisco Ferry Building to discuss whether to proceed with the lawsuit the commission filed last month against our city.
The commission's lawsuit seeks to invalidate Proposition B, which voters from every neighborhood in San Francisco approved in June. Prop. B requires voter consent for increasing existing height limits in any proposed waterfront developments on Port of San Francisco land.
San Franciscans already see how Prop. B is working with the waterfront planning and development offered by Forest City Development. Their transparent, public process has earned the overwhelming support of the directly affected Potrero Hill and Dogpatch neighborhoods, as well as many other community-oriented groups throughout the city. This is in marked contrast to the backroom wheeling and dealing that characterized the 8 Washington luxury condo plan, which voters rejected last November in a resounding defeat for Newsom and Mayor Ed Lee.
Responding to the single objective of Prop. B - to give the citizens of San Francisco a voice on waterfront height limits - community groups along the southern waterfront have united to support Proposition F on the November ballot. Prop. F would authorize a height-limit increase from 40 to 90 feet on 28 acres in the Pier 70 area in order to allow development of a mixed-use housing that includes middle-class housing, waterfront parks, affordable artist space and 10,000 jobs.
This results directly from the fact the Pier 70 plan is being discussed and vetted in the light of day with San Franciscans, instead of politicians and bureaucrats in back rooms. That is why Newsom and the State Lands Commission would prefer to permanently silence the voice of the voters on the waterfront by attempting to invalidate Proposition B in the courts.
The lawsuit claims that the Legislature only intended the five politically appointed port commissioners to have any say along the waterfront when it transferred ownership of San Francisco's waterfront properties from the state to the city in 1968. This argument is strongly disputed by former state Senate President Pro Tem John Burton, the author of that 1968 legislation.
Indeed, if these claims were true, then 45 years of positive changes along San Francisco's waterfront also would need to be repealed. During this time, city voters were instrumental in making numerous key decisions that allowed us to build the jewel that is the Giants ballpark, create new waterfront parks, walkways and open spaces, and construct a new cruise terminal that will open this fall.
It is ironic that the State Lands Commission will be meeting inside the San Francisco Ferry Building to authorize a lawsuit to nullify the voice of voters on waterfront issues. In 1994, San Francisco voted to approve a ballot measure to facilitate a comprehensive restoration and renovation of that building, which today is a thriving retail, restaurant and public space the port calls the city's living room.
Rather than suing the people of San Francisco to block their right to have a voice on their waterfront, Newsom and the rest of the commissioners should be thanking them for a job well done.
Art Agnos is the former mayor of San Francisco.